UK System

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UK System

Postby Marina » Mon Aug 20, 2007 5:59 am


See Adoption

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Open up our family courts

Jul 1 2007

By Phil Doherty, The Sunday Sun

A top lawyer has called for the Family Courts to be opened up to the Press to prevent what he described as appalling miscarriages of justice which have seen children taken from their parents for no good reason.

Bill Bache, who has dealt with a number of North cases and famously won mum Angela Canning her freedom after she was falsely accused of murdering her kids, said there would be an outcry if people knew what went on behind closed court doors.

He said: "What I have seen happening in these courts over a long period of time is the most astonishing decisions being made on the basis of astonishing evidence."

Because of the law of contempt, Mr Bache cannot give specific details of cases for fear of arrest and a possible jail sentence.

The Government had said it wanted to open up Family Courts to restore public confidence in them. However, after lobbying by social services, the NSPCC, paediatricians and other interested groups, Justice Minister Lord Falconer recently announced yet more restrictions on reporters.

Mr Bache said: "It does not surprise me that social services and the NSPCC have lobbied against moves to open up the courts. I've had experience of a number of social workers and while there are some excellent ones who do a very good job, there are far too many who are appalling and whose conduct is indefensible.

"When parents are already at a low ebb they try every trick they can to undermine and demoralise them and they are quite arbitrary as to why they intrude into the lives of families. Quite often they just bully parents because they simply don't like them.

"The problem is that some social workers have become hypersensitive to seeing abuse everywhere and this is why we need a counter balance in the courts.

"Social services and other professionals in the family courts use the Children's Act to protect themselves rather than the children. I find it depressing that their lobbying has effectively maintained the status quo."

The Government decided to launch a consultation on family courts in 2006 after three mums were charged with murdering their children on the evidence of experts. The youngsters were actually victims of cot death. The mothers were Angela Canning, Trupti Patel and Sally Clark, who died in March.

Paediatrician Sir Roy Meadow gave evidence against all three and his infamous comment in the Clark case - the so called "Meadow's Law" that there was just a one in 73 million chance of two cot deaths in one family - was roundly discredited and he was subsequently struck off.

While the cases were heard in open criminal courts, concern had been expressed that Meadow's theories had been applied previously in closed Family Court and not subject to public scrutiny.

Jan Loxley Blount, a former Government adviser on children said: "Opening up the Family Courts is the only way we will get real justice in these cases.

"At present they are taking children away from parents without any scrutiny whatsoever. For those who have had their children wrongly taken from them this is a life sentence."

Few in Teesside can forget the 1980s Cleveland sex abuse scandal where 120 children were removed from families by social services on the advice from two paediatricians using a test that was later discredited.

However, explaining the U-turn, Lord Falconer said: "I have listened to the views of children and young people. The clear message was the media should not be given an automatic right to attend family courts as this could jeopardise children's rights to privacy and anonymity."

David Barnes, a spokesman for the British Association of Social Workers, said: "We are not against more accountability of the Family Courts and welcome that more summaries of judgements will be made public as these are a way of understanding how the courts are making their decisions.

"Also, social workers are only human and there will be a small number not doing their jobs properly or even worse. This is why we do welcome more accountability."



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For the children's sake, it's time to lift this veil

By Alasdair Palme, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 2:00am BST 02/07/2007

When the state takes a child by force from its parents and gives it to another family, it is an offence to publish that fact, or any of the evidence produced for the court hearing. The punishment is an unlimited fine or imprisonment.

If a mother whose child is taken from her so much as communicates the information to someone not on the government-approved list - restricted to her legal team, doctor and MP - she commits an offence.

Some of the judges who work in the family courts, however, have come to realise that blanket secrecy does not serve justice.

Last year, Mr Justice McFarlane took the almost unprecedented step of publishing his judgment in the case of X, a child who was taken away from her mother, after the mother had asked social workers for advice in dealing with the girl's moods. The woman only managed to get her daughter back 18 months later.

Mr Justice McFarlane found that "every single element" of the grounds used to justify taking the child "was misleading, or incomplete, or wrong". He identified appalling malpractice on the part of social services, the local authority and its lawyers. He published his judgment in an effort to ensure that the same malpractice was not repeated. Usually, secrecy would ensure that no one, not even court officials, ever knew how badly things had gone wrong.

It is easy to see how the practice of keeping the family courts secret benefits incompetent social workers and lawyers: they are never called to account for their mistakes, for their mistakes are never identified.

But how could anyone think that such a practice benefits children?

In justifying its decision not to open the family courts to public scrutiny, the Department of Justice (DoJ) stated that children would suffer harm if their "right to privacy" were infringed by such a move, because then children would be named in the press.

But the blanket secrecy of the family courts could perfectly well be ended without children being identified by name.

In reporting rape trials, it is illegal to identify the victim. The press complies with that law. No one claims that the only way to protect the privacy of rape victims and to improve the quality of justice in rape trials is to impose a blanket ban on reporting anything about such cases, not least because everyone knows that would be a recipe for lowering the standards of justice. Furthermore, even if it is granted that children would "suffer harm" by any form of publicity, that "harm" has to be balanced against the lasting damage that can be done by wrongly taking children from their parents.

The DoJ seems to believe that the family courts never wrongly take children from their parents. But that is demonstrably false.

Because the courts are secret, no one has been able systematically to examine the quality of decision-making, so no one knows what percentage of the children who are forcibly adopted should never have been taken away.

The evidence of malpractice from the few cases that do manage to make it into the public domain is not reassuring.

Covering up incompetence is not the only motive for preserving secrecy in the family courts, but it is usually its only effect. If the Government really believed the "interests of the child" were paramount, it would end that secrecy tomorrow.



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Family courts appeal wins backing of MPs

Ben Leapman, Home Affairs Correspondent, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:43am BST 29/07/2007

A campaign for a public inquiry into miscarriages of justice in family courts has won the backing of 23 MPs, writes Ben Leapman.

In a Commons motion, they condemn the Government for abandoning plans to lift the secrecy veil on hearings. They also criticise the financial incentives offered to councils to raise adoption rates.

Lynne Jones, Labour MP for Birmingham Selly Oak, favours reform after one of her constituents, a woman with learning difficulties, had her first two babies taken away by social services and put up for adoption. After the MP intervened, the woman was allowed to keep her third baby. Miss Jones said: "Social services are overstretched in terms of resources, so you get corners cut and injustices occur."

advertisementOthers backing the campaign include Liberal Democrats Norman Lamb and John Hemming, Conservatives David Wilshire and Andrew Pelling, and Labour's Kate Hoey and Alan Simpson.


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Daughter died while in care of social workers

Ben Leapman, Home Affairs Correspondent, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:52am BST 29/07/2007

The grieving parents of a 12-year-old girl who died in council care have condemned the secrecy of the family courts which took their daughter away.

Salma's father, Walid, protesting outside Parliament

Salma ElSharkawy was killed along with care worker, Beth Fitton, 23, when their car hit a tree and burst into flames near Buxton, Derbyshire, earlier this month.

Salma was removed from her family at the age of 10 after her mother Mary O'Sullivan, 49, asked social workers to help deal with her bad behaviour. Since then her parents had been fighting to get her back.

She regularly ran away from foster care and returned home, only to be returned to her foster carers by police.

A judge ruled, however, that she should remain in council care, despite being told by Salma in a handwritten letter: "I think social services are liars. I wish I could go home to my mum and dad. No one knows how I feel except my mum [and] dad. I feel very sad and down. If you don't say I am not going home my life will be destroyed."

advertisementIn her letter, Salma also criticises the Monroe Young Family Centre, where her family was assessed.

Walid ElSharkawy, 43, an IT technician, claims his daughter was let down by the family courts, lawyers and the council in Camden, north London. The parents have launched their own campaign to lift the veil of secrecy around family court hearings, with the threat of jail for parents who speak publicly about having their children taken away.

They join a growing number of voices expressing concern.

Last month, the Government abandoned plans to allow limited media access to the hearings, prompting Sarah Harman, a solicitor specialising in family law and elder sister of Harriet, deputy leader of the Labour Party, to increase pressure to open up proceedings.

Mr ElSharkawy said: "When I heard we were going to court, I thought we would be all right because we've done nothing wrong. But there is no justice.

"The case was fixed from day one by people who work with each other. You stand no chance of getting your child back. I want to open up the family courts and make social workers accountable."

Miss O'Sullivan, a hospital volunteer, said: "Social services were desperate to get the care order.

"Salma was my only child and I'm 49, so I won't be able to have any more. Someone has got to take the blame for this - she died in their care."

Miss O'Sullivan sought help in 2005 while her husband was working in the Middle East. After Salma was removed, her parents, married but separated, underwent psychiatric and parenting assessments in their quest to get her back.

The mother was diagnosed with dysthymia or chronic mild depression. The father claims he was told he was "too rigid", "lacked understanding of Salma's emotional needs" and had "little insight into her complex personality".

During his assessment, he says, he was given tasks including counting backwards in sevens from 100. Mr ElSharkawy said: "If you talk to your child during an assessment, they say you're 'trying to impose your character'. If your child answers you, they're 'begging for attention'. It's evil, the way they use words."

On occasions Salma slept rough while on the run from foster care. Her parents obeyed court orders by telephoning police each time their daughter turned up at their doorstep. They believe this cost them dearly because social workers told Salma that it proved they did not want her at home.

In 2006, a judge ordered that Salma should remain in foster care. She spent the last four months of her life at a children's home in the Peak District operated by Adventure Care Ltd, a private firm, at a cost to taxpayers of £2,920 a week - six times more than a boarding place at the top public girls' school Roedean. She was living in a house with Miss Fitton, receiving one-to-one care and personal tuition.

On July 3, Miss Fitton was driving Salma when her car hit a tree and burst into flames.

Camden council is to order an independent inquiry into Salma's care. A spokesman said: "This is an extremely difficult time for Salma's family and friends after her tragic death. We send them our deepest sympathy.

"It is always an extremely difficult decision for all involved - parents, children and social workers - when any child is taken into care, and this is always the very last resort. In Salma's case the court decided it would be in her best interest to take her into care."

• Do you know of a victim of injustice resulting from the secrecy in the family courts system? If so, please email us at [email protected]

We will not identify individuals without their consent.


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Court secrecy rules hide child abuse errors

By Ben Leapman, Home Affairs Correspondent, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:35am BST 12/08/2007

Shocking failures in the child protection system are being hidden by the secrecy of England's family courts.

Even in cases where it has emerged that children were abused while monitored by social services and the NHS, judges' criticisms and recommendations have been withheld from the public.

In one secret court ruling, a judge warned that babies were being "missed by the system". Critics said the failure to inform the public of lapses could cost lives.

advertisementThe details of a case involving a four-month-old girl deliberately burned in a faked car crash, in an attempt to cover up scalds she had received days earlier, can also be revealed.

At a criminal trial, Timothy Mallard, 23, received a seven-year jail sentence for grievous bodily harm and Tracey Watson, 28, a suspended sentence for neglect.

During that public trial, no details emerged of how both the baby, who cannot be named, and Watson were seen repeatedly by doctors, health workers and Lincolnshire social services before the attack.

It is understood those details were raised at a closed family court hearing. Secrecy laws prevent full disclosure of the court's findings.

John Hemming, a Liberal Democrat MP and chairman of Justice for Families, said: "Mistakes by social workers and other professionals are covered up as a result of family court secrecy. Lessons go unlearnt, sometimes with fatal consequences."

Kate Carrington, Mallard's mother, a retired sociology lecturer, called for a public inquiry into the case. "There should not be blanket secrecy to cover up people's mistakes," she said.

Ministers abandoned plans to open family courts to public scrutiny this year.

The Sunday Telegraph has exposed a series of cases in which parents have had their children removed and put up for adoption on apparently weak grounds. The families are barred from speaking publicly about their plight.

In the Lincolnshire case, Mallard, a forestry worker, drove into a tree at low speed in 2005 before setting his vehicle alight and dangling the baby in the flames.

Doctors found her ribs had been broken weeks earlier, and concluded that her hands had been thrust into very hot water two days earlier, leaving her severely scalded.

At Lincoln Crown Court in April, Judge Michael Heath told Mallard: "I find it very hard to understand how you could do what you did."

At the trial, at which the defendants pleaded guilty, details of their involvement with the child protection system did not emerge.

Watson had been treated for mental health problems years earlier, sources say.

In the month before the incident, the baby spent 12 days in hospital

Watson was a psychiatric in-patient until she discharged herself a week before the car crash. Six days before the incident, a social worker visited her and the baby. Four days before it, they were seen by a health visitor.

Lincolnshire Safeguarding Children Board is investigating the case behind closed doors. Its full findings may never be published.

Two inquiries are under way into cases of children killed soon after being seen by social workers.

The murder of four-year-old Leticia Wright by her mother and her mother's boyfriend will be examined by Kirklees Safeguarding Children Board.

In Ealing, west London, officials will investigate the case of 17-month-old Talha Ikram, who died after he was removed from foster care and returned to his father and stepmother.


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Postby Marina » Tue Aug 21, 2007 7:35 pm

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YouTube row over social services baby threat

Ben Leapman, Home Affairs Correspondent, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 4:01am BST 20/08/2007

A heavily pregnant woman is at the centre of an extraordinary legal battle with social workers after she secretly recorded them threatening to take away her newborn baby.

YouTube audio: The secret recording
Vanessa Brookes, 34, who is due to give birth early next month, smuggled taping equipment into a meeting with social services officials, fearing they would try to take her baby for forced adoption.

She recorded a social worker telling her and her husband Martin, 41, that even though there was "no immediate risk to your child from yourselves", the council would seek a court order to place the child in foster care.

Mother and baby would be allowed "two or three days" in hospital together, but should not leave the premises until social workers came to remove the infant. In a desperate attempt to keep their baby, the couple have published the recorded conversation on the internet.

Calderdale council, in West Yorkshire, last night accused them of breaching the Data Protection Act by recording its staff without their knowledge or consent. The council said it had begun legal action to have the recording removed from the YouTube website. Mrs Brookes said: "Even puppies and kittens aren't removed from their mothers at birth. Social workers always record everything, so why shouldn't we record them?"

John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP and chairman of campaign group Justice for Families, said: "I find it very odd that a newborn baby would be removed when there is not any allegation by the authorities that the child is at risk. Yet this case is not unique. There are many cases in which newborns are removed because of allegations that their mothers may at some later stage 'emotionally abuse' the child."

The case returns the spotlight to claims that social services are being heavy-handed in removing children from their parents, in order to meet Government adoption targets.

The Sunday Telegraph has previously revealed cases of mothers who were not told why their children were taken away, and cases of families whose children were not returned even after the parents had been cleared of wrongdoing. More than 2,000 babies aged under a year were taken for adoption last year, almost triple the level of a decade ago.

Social services took an interest in the Brookes family after Mrs Brookes, who is partially-sighted, was diagnosed with depression and a personality disorder, leading to concerns that her baby might be subjected to "emotional abuse". Neighbours have complained that the couple's household was disorderly, but neither has been accused of abusing or harming a child.

In the recorded meeting, the social worker tells the couple: "It's our intention as a local authority that when your baby is born, we go into court on that same day and ask for an interim court order because we would wish to place your baby with foster carers."

He tells Mrs Brookes: "I would like you and your baby to stay in hospital until the courts have made a decision."

The social worker says the two or three days the mother has with her baby in hospital will allow her to begin breast-feeding and that once the infant is taken away, social services will pick up expressed breast milk from her home and deliver it to the foster carers for bottle-feeding.

The social worker admits to the couple that a back-up plan is being drawn up in case the judge refuses the application for a care order. He says: "What we also have to think about is a child protection plan that looks at you, at home, with your baby. There is no immediate risk to your child from yourselves, that's my understanding from reading documents."

A spokesman for Calderdale council said officials would seek a meeting with Mr and Mrs Brookes "to understand how this information came into the public domain. We are taking action to have this item removed from YouTube. This recording was made without the knowledge or consent of our member of staff.

"The council does not take lightly any recommendation to the court for a child or a baby to be brought into care. The decision whether or not to institute care proceedings is made by social workers who have to consider the best interests of the child."


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Postby Marina » Thu Aug 23, 2007 5:58 pm

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August 23, 2007

Guilty of child abuse! (Well, our version.)

Camilla Cavendish

For a brief time this week, until it was taken down, there was an extraordinary posting on YouTube. It was a covert recording, made by a 34-year-old mother, of her meeting with the social worker who wants to take her next baby into care.

Had it been staged, critics would have called it a caricature. A robotic official orders the sobbing mother to stay in the hospital until his colleagues come to remove her new baby. He refuses her desperate pleas to be monitored with the baby at home. He explains in the tones of a traffic warden the inconvenience of delivering her breast milk. He then lets drop an astonishing admission: that Calderdale Council is pursuing a court order despite there being “no immediate risk to your child from yourselves”. Will he say that in court? We will not know, of course, for the court will sit in secret.

Such a chilling drama plays to our deepest fears of state tyranny. There is something wrong with the system. But posting a conversation on YouTube, out of context, is not the way to right it. The council argues that Vanessa Brookes’s recording falls foul of the Data Protection Act. Her supporters say that she is a victim of social services and justified in publishing what is essentially her own data. But we do not know whether she is a victim. Who is abusing whom here?

Mrs Brookes’s case is not straightforward. She is partially sighted and has suffered bouts of depression. Two of her children have already been adopted. That does not prove that she is an unfit mother - mistakes can be made - but it does explain the council’s interest. Equally, I am told that she and her husband have never been accused of harming any child. But this dribble of incomplete facts is fundamentally unenlightening. All it does is illustrate the torturous trade-offs that the system has to make, and our inability to judge those trade-offs because it is illegal to read family court papers.

How should we treat someone like Mrs Brookes, who has troubles enough to worry social services but has not apparently yet harmed a child? She is one of a growing group of people who are categorised as capable of “emotional abuse”. You can see why the category exists. Ill-treatment comes in many forms, not just cigarette burns. But in that nebulous phrase lurks the potential for great injustice.

“Emotional abuse” has no strict definition in British law. Yet it now accounts for an astounding 21 per cent of all children registered as needing protection, up from 14 per cent in 1997. Last year 6,700 children were put on the child protection register for emotional abuse, compared with only 2,600 for sexual abuse and 5,100 for physical abuse. Both of the latter two categories have been falling steadily. Meanwhile emotional abuse and “neglect” - which replaced the old notion of “grave concern” in 1989 - have been rising. Both are catch-alls. But emotional abuse is especially vague. It covers children who have not been injured, have not complained, and do not come under “emotional neglect”.

The Department of Health defines emotional abuse as “persistent emotional ill-treatment . . . [which] may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or inadequate . . . and may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being placed on children . . . Some level of emotional abuse is involved in all types of ill-treatment of a child, though it may occur alone”.

Local authorities have printed their own, wildly differing, interpretations. In Enfield emotional abuse includes “swearing”, “conditional love” or “discriminatory remarks”. In Nottingham, it is “an ingrained pattern of interaction . . . which it is essential to observe and understand over time”. Under that definition, a baby could never be removed at birth. Nottingham also states that emotional abuse should rarely be a cause for removing a child. Meanwhile the NSPCC, the charity that has never knowingly undersold a statistic, states in its briefing on emotional abuse that “18 per cent of children experience humiliation and/or attacks on self-esteem”. Should we put them all in care, then?

“You’ll know it when you see it - except that you can’t see it” is no way to make law. Abuse literature repeatedly states how often parent and child are unaware of the damage done by their relationship patterns. How do we weigh that damage against the trauma of the conveyor belt of foster care? In most such situations, isn’t removing a child utterly disproportionate?

Just imagine that some social services departments were crusaders, seeing evil parents everywhere but unable to prove conventional abuse. It is plausible that the number of vague allegations would rise, backed by psychiatrists of a similar mindset who are prepared to enter a “maybe”. How else can one explain a 50 per cent rise in emotional abuse cases in ten years? How many of those cases are utterly marginal?

Next, imagine that the rise in these cases had left social workers even more overstretched. They would have less time to monitor children at home and to keep families together. They would also have less time for the hard-core cases. No system can ever protect every child. But the toddler on Haringey’s at-risk register who was found dead last week with fractured ribs, a broken back and two missing fingernails was surely more deserving of removal than those at risk of low self-esteem.

So many cases are gut-wrenchingly complex. We need social workers to be properly accountable. We need the family courts to be open. Mrs Brookes is clearly not perfect, but she deserves to have clear grounds for the removal of her child. Right now, it looks as though around 6,000 people stand accused of abuse, or potential abuse, that no lawyer can even define. That is an appalling vista that we must not continue to hide from public view.


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Postby Marina » Sat Aug 25, 2007 7:37 pm

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Outcry over rise in forced adoptions

Press Association
Friday August 24, 2007

Record numbers of young children are being removed from their parents and adopted unjustly because of government targets and the "secrecy" of the family courts, it was claimed today.
Campaigners say there are now more than 100 cases of possible miscarriages of justice where children have been forcibly adopted.

The figures, revealed in BBC Radio 4's Face the Facts programme, claims the number of parents in England who have had to give up their children, despite insufficient evidence they were causing them harm, has now hit record levels.

It says 1,300 babies under a month old are being adopted every year, up from 500 when the government came into power in 1997.
Social workers told the programme, to be broadcast later today, that they were being put under pressure to meet the government adoption targets set in 2000.

And lawyers claimed parents were not being given a proper chance to challenge adoptions because of the time limit on appeals and the secrecy within the family courts.

Family law solicitor Sarah Harman said: "Secrecy breeds bad practice, it breeds suspicion. It feeds parents' sense of injustice when they have their children removed that they're not able to talk about it.

"They're not able to air their grievances. Children have been removed from their families unjustly. There's no two ways about that."

A social work manager with 25 years' experience in child protection said parents had little chance of getting a hearing and overturning a decision made by the authorities. The manager told the BBC: "People will find that their children have been removed and freed for adoption without them having had a proper chance to defend themselves and their families and their children."

MPs have also spoken out against the system and are campaigning for a public inquiry.

John Hemming, Lib Dem MP for Birmingham Yardley, who is also chairman of the Justice for Families group, said: "We're seeing perhaps three to four new cases being referred to us every day."

The programme features one mother who claims she was actually giving birth when the authorities arrived to remove her baby, and a father who had his two sons unjustly adopted. He later received a written apology from the local authority but, because his children had already been adopted, he will never get them back.

The Department for Children, Schools and Families denied there was a policy to take children from their birth parents in order to meet overall adoption targets.

A spokesman said government policy had always been that children should live with their parents wherever possible and given extra support to stay together if necessary.

He said targets had been set to increase the number of looked-after children adopted and to speed up the placing of children for adoption. But he added that this was only if they had already been assessed as suitable for adoption and it had been decided that adoption was in the child's best interests.

Local authorities might set themselves targets to place children for adoption more quickly after that course had been decided on, he said.

He added: "It is for a court to decide whether or not to make a placement or an adoption order on the basis of the welfare of the child."

The Ministry of Justice said a child's welfare was paramount in family proceedings and that it had restricted access to family courts to safeguard children's privacy and anonymity.

Its new approach would include a pilot where more information in particular cases with a significant public interest would be provided, a spokeswoman said.

A court would decide whether to produce a summary of the decision at the end of such cases. This would then be given to the people involved and the reasons behind the decision would be made available online for public scrutiny.


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Postby Marina » Sun Aug 26, 2007 9:53 am

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Threat to take new-born over emotional abuse

By David Harrison, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 1:42am BST 26/08/2007

A pregnant woman has been told that her baby will be taken from her at birth because she is deemed capable of "emotional abuse", even though psychiatrists treating her say there is no evidence to suggest that she will harm her child in any way.

Social services' recommendation that the baby should be taken from Fran Lyon, a 22-year-old charity worker who has five A-levels and a degree in neuroscience, was based in part on a letter from a paediatrician she has never met.

Hexham children's services, part of Northumberland County Council, said the decision had been made because Miss Lyon was likely to suffer from Munchausen's Syndrome by proxy, a condition unproven by science in which a mother will make up an illness in her child, or harm it, to draw attention to herself.

Under the plan, a doctor will hand the newborn to a social worker, provided there are no medical complications. Social services' request for an emergency protection order - these are usually granted - will be heard in secret in the family court at Hexham magistrates on the same day.

From then on, anyone discussing the case, including Miss Lyon, will be deemed to be in contempt of the court.

Miss Lyon, from Hexham, who is five months pregnant, is seeking a judicial review of the decision about Molly, as she calls her baby. She described it as "barbaric and draconian", and said it was "scandalous" that social services had not accepted submissions supporting her case.

"The paediatrician has never met me," she said. "He is not a psychiatrist and cannot possibly make assertions about my current or future mental health. Yet his letter was the only one considered in the case conference on August 16 which lasted just 10 minutes."

Northumberland County Council insists that two highly experienced doctors - another consultant paediatrician and a medical consultant - attended the case conference.

The case adds to growing concern, highlighted in a series of articles in The Sunday Telegraph, over a huge rise in the number of babies under a year old being taken from parents. The figure was 2,000 last year, three times the number 10 years ago.

Critics say councils are taking more babies from parents to help them meet adoption "targets".

John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat MP and chairman of the Justice for Families campaign group, said the case showed "exactly what is wrong with public family law".

He added: "There is absolutely no evidence that Fran would harm her child. However, a vague letter from a paediatrician who has never met her has been used in a decision to remove her baby at birth, while evidence from professionals treating her, that she would have no problems has been ignored."

Mr Hemming was concerned that "vague assertions" of Munchausen's Syndrome by proxy - now known as "fabricated and invented illness" - had been used to remove a number of children from parents in the North-East.

Miss Lyon came under scrutiny because she had a mental health problem when she was 16 after being physically and emotionally abused by her father and raped by a stranger.

She suffered eating disorders and self-harm but, after therapy, graduated from Edinburgh University and now works for two mental health charities, Borderline and Personality Plus.

Dr Stella Newrith, a consultant psychiatrist, who treated Miss Lyon for her childhood trauma for a year, wrote to Northumberland social services stating: "There has never been any clinical evidence to suggest that Fran would put herself or others at risk, and there is certainly no evidence to suggest that she would put a child at risk of emotional, physical or sexual harm."

Despite this support, endorsed by other psychiatrists and Miss Lyon's GP, social services based their recommendation partly on a letter from Dr Martin Ward Platt, a consultant paediatrician, who was unable to attend the meeting.

He wrote: "Even in the absence of a psychological assessment, if the professionals were concerned on the evidence available that Miss Holton (as Miss Lyon was briefly known), probably does fabricate or induce illness, there would be no option but the precautionary principle of taking the baby into foster care at birth, pending a post-natal forensic psychological assessment."

Miss Lyon said she was determined to fight the decision. "I know I can be a good mother to Molly. I just want the chance to prove it," she said.

The council said the recommendation would be subject to further assessment and review. "When making such difficult decisions, safeguarding children is our foremost priority," a spokesman said.

• A recording of social workers threatening to take a newborn into care has been removed from the YouTube website after Calderdale Council in West Yorkshire started legal action, claiming the Data Protection Act was breached.

Vanessa Brookes, 34, taped social workers telling her and her husband that they would seek to place the baby, due next month, in care, while admitting there was "no immediate risk to the child."


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Postby Marina » Sun Aug 26, 2007 9:56 am

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The unnatural justice of secret family courts

Last Updated: 12:01am BST 26/08/2007

The Sunday Telegraph highlights today yet another case in which a mother has been threatened with losing her baby to local authority care. The mother had not shown any sign at all of harming her child, for her baby has not yet been born.

The local authority, however, is convinced that there is a possibility that she might harm the child.

To most people, it will seem grotesquely unjust that any child could be removed on such a basis. Northumberland County Council is, however, far from unusual in acting in this way. The courts have endorsed the removal of hundreds of children from their natural parents on the basis that there is a possibility that they might "abuse their child emotionally".

Some of those forcible adoptions are appalling acts of injustice. How can such things happen in Britain? The answer is simple: the courts that enforce the taking away of children from parents on local authority say-so operate in secret. It is illegal to reveal their proceedings, or even their judgments.

"Sunlight is the best disinfectant," insisted US Supreme Court Judge Louis Brandeis. It is because we believe that the only way to improve the decisions made in the family courts is to ensure that they can be scrutinised that The Sunday Telegraph has launched Stop the Secrecy: Open the Family Courts, a campaign to end the ban on reporting any proceedings in the Family Division.

The Government used to recognise the merit in the case for greater openness. But earlier this year, it reversed its commitment to increasing transparency. That was a terrible error.

Children's interests cannot be served by secrecy, for secrecy allows incompetence and injustice to flourish unchecked. We urge the Government to open up the family courts to public scrutiny as soon as possible.


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Postby Marina » Sun Sep 02, 2007 2:33 pm

. ... _page.html

Council denies 'quota' claim

Sep 2 2007

by Phil Doherty, Sunday Sun

A COUNCIL at the centre of a controversial move to take a child into care at birth has seen a 100 per cent increase in kids it puts up for adoption in the last five years, we can reveal.

Northumberland County Council claims mum-to-be Fran Lyon might develop Munchausen syndrome by proxy, Msbp, where sufferers harm people — usually children — to gain attention from medical professionals.

Ms Lyon, 22, of Hexham, Northumberland, came under scrutiny because she had a mental health problem when she was 16 after being physically and emotionally abused, and raped by a stranger.

The mum, who is five months pregnant and suffers from a throat-swelling condition called angioedema, insists that she poses no risk.

The story comes at a time when fears have been expressed that some social services departments are being over-zealous in removing children for adoption from vulnerable families in order to meet Government targets.

Adoption figures for Northumberland have risen from 11 in 2001 to 22 last year. The Government target rate was a 50pc increase over the five-year period.

Northumberland County Council denies any link between its adoption rates and the case involving Ms Lyon.

John Hemmings, Liberal Democrat MP and member of Justice for Families — which has highlighted the issue — said: “I’m very worried by the reasons used by social workers to remove children from parents.

“There is a pattern of dubious cases in the North East and it’s clear there needs to be a proper review of all cases where children have been removed from birth parents through the family courts.”

Ms Lyon, who works for mental health charity Borderline UK, says she has never spoken to the paediatrician who diagnosed her as a potential Msbp sufferer. She said: “I work with people who have personality disorders and I have researched this, and I can’t find any medical paper that says you can predict Msbp in a patient in the future.

“All I’m asking for is the chance to show what a good mother I can be.”

Consultant psychiatrist Dr Stella Newrith, who treated Ms Lyon for a year for her personal trauma, wrote to Northumberland social services saying: “There has never been any clinical evidence to suggest that Fran would put herself or others at risk, and there is certainly no evidence to suggest that she would put a child at risk of emotional, physical or sexual harm.”

A Northumberland County Council spokeswoman said: “Our duty to safeguard children is our one and only motivation, and we strive to keep children with their families wherever possible, or extended families if that is not possible.

“We do not have numerical targets for adoption, nor have we ever received financial rewards in relation to adoption figures.

“There is nothing exceptional about adoption figures in Northumberland.

“Indeed, according to statistics published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families, we have been consistently below the regional average for the last four years, with eight out of the 12 authorities in the North East having higher adoption rates.”

County Durham also saw a rise in the number of adoptions, from 28 in 2001 to 39 in the last financial year. Cumbria recorded record numbers of adoptions, rising from 21 six years ago to 36 in 2006/07.

All other authorities in the region have recorded either falls or small increases.


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Postby Marina » Tue Sep 04, 2007 3:37 pm

. ...

Council 'failed' to protect children from foster care abuse

AN EXPLOSIVE report has accused Wakefield Council of fundamental failures after four children were sexually abused by a gay foster couple.
Ian Wathey and Craig Faunch were found guilty of abusing boys in their care and jailed for 11 years last June.

Now a special report, investigating how this was allowed to happen, has slammed the council's foster care system and social work department.

At least 34 recommendations have been made in the report by social care expert Brian Parrott.

It says two of the children could and should have been protected from the abuse they experienced, stating: "There were fundamental failures of practice and decision-making in this case by some social workers, and key people in middle management roles."

It adds: "Wakefield Council should consider the position of three managers in this case."

Another shocking statement in the reports says that: "Social workers and managers were personally and professionally uncomfortable relating to foster carers in same sex relationships and in communicating with colleagues about them. This is not acceptable."


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Postby Marina » Sun Sep 16, 2007 4:10 pm

. ... _page.html

Death sentence for family courts?

Sep 16 2007

by Michael Kelly, Sunday Sun

THE Government is coming under increased pressure to open up the family courts after a number of scandals and contentious decisions. Those for change say such incidents have proved that the authorities require public scrutiny to ensure they do their jobs properly. Those against say it could harm children at the centre of sensitive proceedings. PHIL DOHERTY looks at the arguments . . .

IN May last year, Harriet Harman, then Minister for Constitutional Affairs, said: “It is impossible to defend a system from accusations of bias and discrimination if it operates behind closed doors.”

Many campaigners saw this as a prelude to the family courts being made open to the media again.

Harman’s statement followed a series of high-profile scandals — including mothers being wrongly jailed for murdering their children — on flawed medical evidence which is often used in family courts as well.

Yet, when the changes did come, announced earlier this year by Justice Minister Lord Falconer, they did not include the courts being opened up.

More than 200 MPs and a growing number of former heads of social services, judges, solicitors and even Government Ministers are now campaigning to change that.

Ironically, it has long been believed that the courts were closed to the media in 1989 because of the Cleveland child abuse scandal, where around 120 children from Teesside were taken into care thanks mainly to evidence from experts using what was, even then, not an accepted method of diagnosis. It has now been wholly discredited.

The scandal came to the public’s attention after a media campaign, and many of the children were returned to their parents.

Charles Pragnell, a former senior social services manager, was involved in exposing the Cleveland Sex Abuse scandal. He said: “Many parents report that social workers and medical witnesses often fabricate, embellish and distort evidence against them. Some have even been found out in the law courts, but judges have just ignored it.

“Often, so-called evidence owes more to fanciful speculations and imaginative construction than to the presentation of observed facts. Unproven, discredited and scientifically fraudulent and other professionally disputed theories of child abuse are often presented to courts as facts or to cover up the absence of evidence. This is why the family courts must be opened up to the media.”

Ian Johnston, chief executive of the British Association of Social workers, is quick to disagree. He said: “We fought for 25 years to get independent regulation and in 2000 the Care Standards Act came into force.

“Social workers’ practices have improved considerably in recent years and we don’t feel that having open courts will improve those practices further.

“In care proceedings there is always going to be conflict and differences of opinion and we need to be very careful that we do not base perceptions of social work on one side of the story.”

A Justice Ministry spokeswoman said: “We need instead a new approach which concentrates on improving the information coming out of family courts, rather than on who can go in.”

Recently, the Sunday Sun highlighted the story of Fran Lyon — an expectant mum who could have her unborn child taken from her by Northumberland Social Services.

It is claimed she suffers from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, Msbp, where the sufferer harms somebody — usually a child — to get attention.

The paediatrician who diagnosed Msbp has never even met her and based his opinions on information from social services.

Fran, of Hexham, was able to highlight her plight in full public view because her case hasn’t been to court yet.

Maggie Atkinson, vice president of the Association of Directors of Children’s Services, said it was not against greater public scrutiny . . . as long as proper safeguards were in place.

She said: “We must ensure, above all else, that sensitive information about families and individuals remains private and is treated as sensitively and confidentially as possible.

“Many court hearings deal with matters that genuinely need to remain confidential, to protect both the young children concerned, and the other people involved.

“The last thing we would want is for cases to be made public in a way that would present further harm to already vulnerable children and young people.”

However, Jack Frost of Fassit — an open justice campaign group — said the odds were stacked against families.

He said: “In criminal proceedings, the police provide evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service who then see if there is a case to answer. But these checks and balances do not happen in the family courts.

“According to the Government, 200 people have been jailed by secret family courts for speaking out against the injustices they say have happened to them.

“If you are falsely convicted in criminal courts you can campaign to clear your name. But you can’t in the family courts.

“There is no faith any more in the closed court system.”


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Postby Marina » Tue Oct 23, 2007 8:04 pm


This looks familiar, but don't know if it is exactly the same as a previous one. ... 050570.ece

23 October 2007 23:55 Home > News > UK > This Britain

Are over-zealous social services acting on orders to meet adoption quotas?

Pauline Goodwin's daughter was taken into care before she'd even left hospital. She says she'll fight to get her baby back

By Lena Corner
Published: 14 October 2007

When Pauline Goodwin went into hospital to give birth to a baby daughter in June 2005, two people came to see her in the delivery room: they were social workers asking her to sign the papers that would entitle them to put the baby into care. Goodwin refused.

When the baby was just three days old, Goodwin was summoned to court and instructed to leave her baby in the care of the hospital. The judge issued a care order and by the time Goodwin left the courtroom, the social services had already dropped by the hospital to collect her baby.

"They said that because the baby had never lived in a family unit, she didn't have a bond with us so it didn't matter if she was taken away," says Goodwin. "I don't know where she is now and I'm not entitled to know."

In a case that could make legal history, Goodwin plans to go to the European Court of Human Rights to prove the adoption of her daughter was fraudulent.

The irony of Goodwin's situation is that, initially, she welcomed the intervention of the social services. For 10 years she had been in an abusive marriage in which she had had five children. When the marriage collapsed, Goodwin had a breakdown. At the time, her youngest child was three months old and social services came forward offering to help.

But within a few weeks, the social workers' attitude had changed. "They started visiting two or three times a day and phoning the children's schools daily." Social workers turned up during the middle of one of the children's birthday parties and sometimes would arrive to carry out spot-checks at 10pm, shining torches into the sleeping children's faces to check it was them.

Then the threats started. One social workers said it was her aim to get the children into care. "They also said that they'd had two or three people phoning in daily to say they'd seen my kids out playing till all hours or that I had left them and gone out drinking. The stupid thing is that often I had a social worker round at the moment this was meant to be happening."

The social services claimed to have issues in three areas. First, with the state of Goodwin's house. "It was messy," she admits, "but it was just toys and clothes; it was never dirty." So Goodwin stripped the house, redecorated and bought new bunk beds for the children. "When I did that, all they said was 'Where did you get the money from?'" She was also criticised for her children's poor school attendance. "I did find it difficult to get them all up and out in the morning. I was sending them to school in a taxi and that worked fine, but the social services decided I wasn't allowed to." And third, they highlighted missed medical appointments. "I missed two dental appointments," says Goodwin, "and I refused to give my two youngest the MMR because I wanted more information."

The social services decided to push for a an interim care order and Goodwin soon found herself in court. The youngest four children were ordered into foster care for six weeks while the eldest was allowed to stay with Goodwin, "which was ridiculous because she had the worst school attendance of all". Goodwin told her children they were going on holiday and packed their bags. "Two social services cars and a police car turned up and just took them. One of the very first things they did was dish out the MMR." Two were sent to foster carers and two to their father, "a violent alcoholic who's been arrested 10 times. The court psychologists seem to think that if you're an alcoholic it doesn't affect your parenting skills." That was 2004; Goodwin has been fighting for them ever since.

"Pauline Goodwin's case is one of the more extreme examples of appalling behaviour among people in the area of public family law," says MP John Hemming, the Liberal Democrat member for Birmingham Yardley, who is chairman of the Justice for Families group and is helping fight her case. "I have great difficulty in understanding how what has been done has benefited any of these people. The mere fact that the judges resisted providing her copies of the judgment, which she needs in order to appeal [it took her over a year to get them] rings alarm bells as to whether the rule of law is in operation in Liverpool County Court."

Social services refuse to comment on individual cases, but Hemming believes Goodwin's story is part of a wider phenomenon that started seven years ago when the government decided to speed up the adoption process. A target was set to increase adoptions by 50 per cent between 2000 and 2006; the number of babies taken into care rose from 1,600 in 1995 to 2,800 10 years later, while the number of adoptions jumped from 810 in 1995 to 2,300 in 2005. This has led some to say the social services are acting to to meet quotas.

"Pauline is the tip of the iceberg," says Hemming. "Statistics suggest there are about 1,000 cases in this country where children have been wrongfully adopted. It's possibly even more than that. I know of a number of cases where all sorts of intimidation is used to discourage people from fighting back."

More worrying is the increasing number of very small babies who are being taken. "This is a disturbing trend," says Hemming. "I am aware of cases where babies are put in care because their mothers get post-natal depression. This is an evil way of working."

Goodwin is now helping other women in her situation and is part of a mounting campaign to stop unnecessary adoption. Recently, she helped organise demonstrations in Manchester, Derby and Liverpool. "There were three other mothers in the square where I lived who all had their children taken away within a matter of months," she says. "We happened to live by some malicious people, who thought it was fun to ring the social services and see the reaction. It should never have been allowed to happen."

Goodwin believes a lot of her problems have been caused by the secrecy of the family courts. "There is no jury and we're not allowed witnesses or character references. They allow hearsay from professionals but not from us, so it comes down to their word against ours." Goodwin claims to have had problems with one social worker in particular. "She's well-known in Liverpool and has been involved in various cases. I put in a formal complaint about her and she was moved."

Goodwin now gets to see her children six times a year. "We meet for an hour and a half in contact centres with social workers watching over me," she says. "I've never been accused of harming or hurting them. They say the visits are supervised in case I say anything to the children about coming home."

In the meantime, Goodwin's priority is to get her baby back. "That baby never even had the chance to come home from hospital. The social workers might have had issues with my other five children, but at that point my baby wasn't even born."

"I haven't missed a court or contact appointment and I've met every care plan they've asked for. Now they say they don't think I'll keep it up. Well, I'm proving to them that I can keep some things up, and that's this fight. I'm going to keep this up until the day I get my baby back."


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Postby Marina » Thu Oct 25, 2007 8:18 pm

. ... 6&ito=1490

Foster child to be taken away because Christian couple refuse to teach him about homosexuality

By JAMES MILLS - More by this author »

Last updated at 07:14am on 24th October 2007

They are devoted foster parents with an unblemished record of caring for almost 30 vulnerable children.

But Vincent and Pauline Matherick will this week have their latest foster son taken away because they have refused to sign new sexual equality regulations.

Vincent and Pauline Matherick: Face being struck off despite fostering 28 times

To do so, they claim, would force them to promote homosexuality and go against their Christian faith.

The 11-year-old boy, who has been in their care for two years, will be placed in a council hostel this week and the Mathericks will no longer be given children to look after.

The devastated couple, who have three grown up children of their own, became foster parents in 2001 and have since cared for 28 children at their home in Chard, Somerset.

Earlier this year, Somerset County Council's social services department asked them to sign a contract to implement Labour's new Sexual Orientation Regulations, part of the Equality Act 2006, which make discrimination on the grounds of sexuality illegal.

Officials told the couple that under the regulations they would be required to discuss same-sex relationships with children as young as 11 and tell them that gay partnerships were just as acceptable as heterosexual marriages.

They could also be required to take teenagers to gay association meetings.

When the Mathericks objected, they were told they would be taken off the register of foster parents.

The Mathericks have decided to resign rather than face the humiliation of being expelled.

Mr Matherick, a 65-year-old retired travel agent and a primary school governor, said: "I simply could not agree to do it because it is against my central beliefs.

"We have never discriminated against anybody but I cannot preach the benefits of homosexuality when I believe it is against the word of God."

Mrs Matherick, 61, said they had asked if they could continue looking after their foster son until he is found a permanent home, but officials refused and he will be placed in a council hostel on Friday.

She said: "He was very upset to begin with. We are all very close, but he's a mature young man and he's dealing with it."

The couple, who have six grandchildren and one greatgrandchild, are both ministers at the nonconformist South Chard Christian Church.

When they first started fostering they took in young single mothers and their babies.

More recently they have been caring for children of primary school age.

Mr Matherick added: "It's terrible that we've been forced into this corner. It just should not happen.

"There are not enough foster carers around anyway without these rules.

"They were saying that we had to be prepared to talk about sexuality with 11-year-olds, which I don't think is appropriate anyway, but not only that, to be prepared to explain how gay people date.

"They said we would even have to take a teenager to gay association meetings.

"How can I do that when it's totally against what I believe?"

Religious campaigners say the couple are the latest victims of an equality drive which puts gay rights above religious beliefs.

Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders have complained that the rules force them to overturn long-held beliefs.

The Mathericks are planning to fight their case in the courts with the backing of the Lawyers' Christian Fellowship.

The same organisation is backing Christian magistrate Andrew McClintock who resigned from the family courts in a row over gay adoption.

He says he was forced to resign because he was not allowed to opt out of cases where he might have to send a child to live with gay parents.


I fight on, says Christian JP who quit over gay adoption

The Mathericks' case comes at a time when there is a chronic shortage of foster parents, who work on a voluntary basis.

An extra 8,000 are needed to plug the gaps in the service.

Researchers have found that continually moving children from home to home can have a devastating impact on their education and general welfare.

But a report last year revealed that the shortage of carers meant that some children in care are being forced to move up to three times a year.

David Taylor, Somerset County Council's corporate director for children and young people, said: "No decision has been made about the deregistration of Mr and Mrs Matherick.

"The council is committed to promoting the interests of children and young people and welcomes foster carers from all backgrounds and faiths."


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Postby Marina » Sat Nov 10, 2007 1:39 pm


Thursday, 8 November 2007, 15:49 GMT

Professor warned of 'risk' to boy

David Southall denies serious professional misconduct
A paediatrician urged social services to take a boy into care right away, the General Medical Council (GMC) heard.
Professor David Southall said he believed the child, known as M2 at the disciplinary hearing, was "at serious risk" from his mother, known as Mrs M.

The GMC is investigating claims the professor acted inappropriately.

In 2004 he was found guilty of serious professional misconduct for accusing solicitor Sally Clark's husband of murdering their children.

Found hanging

Prof Southall is facing a number of charges in relation to six different children in the 1980s and 1990s.

He has been accused of abusing his professional position, acting inappropriately and adding to Mrs M's distress when he interviewed her about the death of her other son, known as M1.

Prof Southall, who worked at London's Royal Brompton Hospital before moving to the North Staffordshire hospital, denies serious professional misconduct.

The GMC fitness to practise panel heard that a social worker, Francine Salem, contacted Prof Southall in January 1998 to ask his opinion on the case.

The panel has previously heard how M2's brother, M1, died in June 1996 after he was found hanging with a belt around his neck from a curtain pole in the family home.

He believed we had a major protection issue here

Social worker Francine Salem

Some time after M1's death, social services had been alerted to concerns about M2 who was apparently displaying suicidal tendencies.

Miss Salem said she had contacted Prof Southall and had given him background details of the case.

On Thursday she told the panel: "He shared my anxieties and felt I was right in suspecting that this may be a case of parental-induced illness.

"He believed we had a major protection issue here and suggested we needed him on board."

When asked by Prof Southall's QC Kieran Coonan why she had contacted Dr Southall specifically, Miss Salem replied: "Obviously because of his knowledge in the area of parental-induced illness which was one of the hypotheses we were looking at at the time."

The panel heard that on 28 January 1998, Miss Salem and her superior visited Prof Southall at his offices.

A note of the visit said: "Having considered all the information available he (Prof Southall) is still of the opinion that the mother has Munchausen's Syndrome and this will lead to M2 being at serious risk from her.

"He advised we should remove M2 at once and have him medically examined and memorandum interviewed."

An Emergency Protection Order (EPO) to take M2 from the family home was granted by magistrates the following day, the panel was told.

The hearing continues.


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Postby Marina » Wed Nov 14, 2007 7:32 pm

. ... 13476.html

Thousands of children left at risk by fostering loophole -

14 November 2007

Thousands of young children in private foster care are left unprotected because the Government has no record of who they are or where they are living.

Statistics released last week show the Government has records of only 1,250 cases of privately fostered children but the British Association for Adoption and Fostering estimates the figure is actually between 15,000 and 20,000.

The Liberal Democrats have joined experts in the field in calling for a compulsory registration scheme for private fostering, but the Government continues to delay even considering such a move.

Research also shows that:

· Despite new stricter rules on vetting and barring of carers there is still no compulsory registration of private foster care arrangements meaning it will be impossible to trace all children in such placements and ensure that their carers are suitable

· The Government has been advised multiple times, including in a report issued by the Department of Health in 2002, that a registration system is the only way to ensure children in private foster care are safe from abuse

· Most children in such arrangements are under the age of five

· Victoria Climbie was in a private foster care arrangement when she was tortured and killed by her "auntie"

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Children, Families and Young Persons Spokesperson, Annette Brooke MP said:

"How can we check that these people are suitable foster parents if we don’t know who they are? We need to know where each fostered child is to make sure they are properly looked after.

"This loophole needs to be closed immediately and a proper registration scheme set up.

"Private foster parents do a fantastic job in looking after some of our most vulnerable children, but the law must be tightened to prevent any child being left in a dangerous situation.

"The tragedy of Victoria Climbie mustn’t be forgotten. The Government has been advised multiple times that a registration system is necessary to keep track of private foster care arrangements. Its deplorable that such action hasn’t been taken."


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Postby Marina » Mon Dec 10, 2007 11:14 am

. ... 021139.ece

December 9, 2007

Haunted by the nightmare of the secret family courts

After being suspected of child abuse, the Ward family are out to change the family justice system

When hospital staff pulled the curtains around her son’s bed and asked: “Poor little baby. What have you been doing?”, Victoria Ward knew something was suddenly very wrong.

A week earlier the Ward family, who live in Cambridge, had been at the height of their happiness. According to Victoria, they both had “good jobs, a secure marriage, a wonderful house and a three-month-old baby we had been planning, hoping for, wanting. Life was lovely”.

With little William’s arrival, Victoria, now a baby-yoga teacher, threw herself into all the activities middle-class mothers love: swimming, massage, baby cinema. And when William had a restless night, Victoria, ever the careful mum, took him to the GP, not once but on three consecutive days until a doctor agreed that his leg looked swollen and sent the family to hospital for an explanation.

Victoria, 34, and Jake, 35, sensible, professional people from supportive and stable families, are the last couple you could imagine being accused of child abuse. But in 2005, after William’s leg was x-rayed in hospital and found to have an unexplained fracture, that’s exactly what they were suspected of.

Out of the blue, they faced a police investigation and the terrifying threat of their son being taken into care. Victoria’s parents had to move from Devon to live with them round the clock before they were allowed to take William home from hospital. Then began an 18-month nightmare encompassing parental assessments, endless reports from social workers and doctors and finally a court case.

In cases of child abuse, the fate of families can turn on the evidence of doctors prepared to stand up as “expert witnesses” (often charging hundreds of pounds an hour) and give their opinion on whether or not a parent has harmed a child. In the criminal courts the evidence can lead to a mother or father being jailed. In the family courts – held in secret – a child can be taken away from its parents and fostered or adopted.

Child protection is a controversial area, and in recent years some of the worst miscarriages of British justice have followed the testimony of so-called expert witnesses in the field, a number of whom have been accused of being zealots or just plain wrong in their willingness to blame parents – even those who protest their innocence – for children’s injuries.

The conviction of the solicitor Sally Clark, jailed in 1999 after being wrongly convicted of murdering two of her children, was based on the evidence of Professor Sir Roy Meadow, who famously and – it later turned out – inaccurately testified that the chance of two of her babies having suffered cot death was one in 73m.

Clark, 42, was freed on appeal in 2003 but never recovered, and died of acute alcohol intoxication at her home in March. Angela Cannings was another innocent mother wrongly convicted of murdering her child during a trial at which Meadow also gave evidence. She too was cleared by the Court of Appeal.

Last week Professor David Southall, who has been described both as Meadow’s pro-tégé and as a pioneer in the detection of child abuse, was struck off the medical register by the General Medical Council (GMC). It ruled that he had abused his position by suggesting to Mandy Morris that she had drugged and murdered her 10-year-old son Lee. The child, who had been bullied at school, had in fact hanged himself from the curtain rail.

The GMC said Southall had “deep-seated attitudinal problems”. Yet, far from apologising to those whose lives have been wrecked, the paediatrician struck a defiant note when he appeared on Radio 4’s Today programme.

He was, he said, “an expert in life-threatening child abuse” and a victim of a vindictive campaign against doctors trying to protect children. “I am the expert and I know what I am talking about,” he insisted.

Compared with Clark and Cannings, Victoria and Jake Ward were “lucky”. After a seven-hour wait in a police cell and interview room, where they were interrogated on suspicion of GBH and child cruelty, the police dropped the case.

The county council, however, carried on with childcare proceedings. By the time the hearings started, Victoria – then pregnant with her daughter Hattie, who is now nine months old – knew her second child was also at risk of being taken away if the court found, “on the balance of probabilities”, that the couple had harmed their son.

But, rack their brains as they might, their only explanation for how William could have fractured his leg was that he might have trapped it at night between the cot bars and caused the injury in trying to wriggle free.

Over 10 months, Victoria, Jake and William visited no fewer than three expert witnesses – the judge wanted to hear a range of opinion. Finally, after a two-week hearing involving conflicting evidence from the experts, the couple were exonerated. “There is no cogent evidence that these parents injured their son,” the judge concluded.

Now Victoria, who kept a video diary of the experience, is pressing ahead with a legal battle to be allowed to name the experts who gave evidence. Like many parents caught up in the trauma of trying to prove they have not harmed their children, she and Jake have found the secrecy of the family courts deeply disturbing. They believe it makes it difficult to right miscarriages of justice and hinders research into real medical conditions that may explain fractures and other injuries in babies.

“I thought there had been a trend towards greater openness in the family courts after the miscarriages of justice of Sally Clark and Angela Cannings, and that I would be able to speak out and tell my story. But it is incredibly difficult,” she says.

During the hearing, she attended a support group for parents of children with unexplained fractures and discovered that although parents are not allowed to discuss cases in the family courts many of the same names came up again and again.

“There seems to be a small group of expert witnesses who often condemn parents,” she says. In fact she had been told by the support group that she would lose the case, “because families always lose”.

“One family we knew of did lose their child,” she says. “It was a similar case, a child under six months with a broken arm, but it went the other way. Their daughter was adopted a couple of weeks ago.”

The Wards feel social workers and doctors should never assume that if a child has broken bones and the parents don’t know why, that it is inevitably because of child abuse.

“Social workers told me that most broken bones in children under one are caused by child abuse,” Victoria says. “I feel very strongly that just because you cannot explain how something happened, someone cannot just say: ‘Oh well, the parents must have done it.’ That assumption has to change. We are very keen to speak up against that crazy [idea].

“One of the expert witnesses in our case was very helpful in terms of supporting an alternative view of how this fracture was caused. I want him to be able to be named. Research needs to go on into children with unexplained fractures.

“We are not saying the doctors in our case have done anything wrong, yet they are seeking anonymity. There is a risk there could be hundreds of Dr Southalls out there giving evidence in the family courts, and no one will know anything about it.”

The solicitor Sarah Harman, sister of the deputy prime minister, Harriet Harman, agrees. She dismisses the objection raised by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health last week that doctors will be deterred from undertaking child protection work and that “children may come to harm” as a result.

“When the chief medical officer did research into expert witnesses, he found that many doctors had simply not been asked to do this work. There is a small group of people who do expert-witness work. They earn a large amount of money. We need to widen the pool.

“There is no western democracy that has such family-court secrecy as we do,” adds Harman, who says she is giving up child protection work because the secrecy compromises parents. “The Wards are my last [such] case,” she says.

Next May, in front of a High Court judge, the Wards will argue for the right to name names. Victoria and Jake’s lives have changed a lot in the past two years. Neither she nor her husband still works in the job they had when William was injured, they are pursuing a case for compensation and their faith in the justice system has been severely tested.

Even now, they worry about what would happen if either of their children hurt themselves again. “We have had to force ourselves to let William climb and play outside and take risks like normal children,” says Victoria. “What happened is still on his record.”

But at least if Mr Justice Munby gives them the go-ahead next year they will be able to draw some comfort from the fact that their case may stand as a landmark ruling, prising open the secrecy of the family courts and perhaps helping families who find themselves caught up in a similar predicament.

In the meantime, Southall says he may appeal against the GMC’s decision. Inquiries by the police and the attorney-general into his work are continuing.


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Postby Marina » Mon Dec 10, 2007 11:18 am

. ... 6&ito=1490

A bittersweet christening for the boy social workers couldn't take away

By NICK PRYER - More by this author »

Last updated at 21:12pm on 8th December 2007

It was a simple, informal ceremony but one that symbolised a family's bittersweet struggle against the social services, the medical establishment and the British legal system.

Brandon Webster was christened in front of his long-suffering parents Mark and Nicky and scores of family members, neighbours and friends in tiny St Martin's Church at Cromer, Norfolk.

The service last Sunday was a fittingly joyful symbol of the couple's High Court victory over Norfolk's social services, who wanted to take 18-month-old Brandon into care straight from birth.

But it was also a poignant reminder of the absence of their three older children, who can be identified only as Children A, B and C. They were seized by Norfolk County Council in November 2003 and forcibly adopted because of false claims of abuse.

Mark, 34, and Nicky, 27, who fled to Ireland to stop Brandon being snatched at birth, this year mounted a successful legal challenge to Norfolk County Council's attempt to take him.

The High Court heard new expert medical opinion that tiny fractures revealed on X-rays of Child B were not caused by violent twisting and shaking, as social services believed – but were symptoms of scurvy, a now rare vitamin deficiency caused by the family GP's advice that the child should be fed on soya milk deficient in Vitamin C.

Nicky Webster with Brandon: 'It was lovely to have all our family and friends in church at Brandon's christening'
Nicky said: "We always find this time of year particularly difficult because we can't stop thinking of our other three children and what they will be doing at Christmas.

"It was lovely to have all our family and friends in church for Brandon's christening. But it was heartbreaking that our other children could not be there.

"We have no idea where they are or what they are doing – we aren't allowed to know. I like to think they are happy and settled."

The High Court case was strictly confined to Brandon. The other three children were taken after the Websters were branded child abusers in a family court hearing in 2004.

Now the couple are preparing to clear their name in the Appeal Court, which, if successful, would remove the legal basis for taking the trio.


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Postby Marina » Sun Feb 10, 2008 9:04 pm

. ... lee108.xml

Man jailed for helping wife flee social services
By Richard Edwards
Last Updated: 2:30am GMT 08/02/2008

A father has been jailed for helping his pregnant wife flee abroad because she was terrified that social services would take her baby.

The 56-year-old businessman drove his wife and her eight-year-old son from a previous marriage to Dover, and then on to Paris.

He was arrested on his return to Britain and lost a High Court appeal earlier this week to have a 16-month sentence reduced.

The mother, who is a professional woman in her 40s but cannot be identified for legal reasons, has since given birth prematurely to a girl and remains in hiding.

She fled in part because she believed that her son, known as Child S, was also to be adopted against her wishes.

The three appeal judges were told yesterday how Child S's parents had a volatile marriage that ended in 2004.

Child S was taken into foster care. After months of legal battles, a family court judge agreed with the local authority's plan to put the boy up for enforced adoption.

But by this time, the mother was pregnant and "in despair". A friend said: "She was led to believe by social services she would have no chance of keeping the child she was carrying."

She made a plan to escape and take her son with her last September, after whispering instructions to him through the playground fence at school, according to High Court documents.

Child S "crept out" of his foster home to meet his mother and stepfather. The mother left a note that claimed: "We had to go."

Detectives believe they are in Spain or France, the court heard.

Dismissing the appeal, Mr Justice Bennett acknowledged the "powerful emotions" involved, but said: "Such proceedings taken by a local authority must be respected by parents.

"Those who act must expect a prison sentence because a real punishment is called for and to deter others who might be subject to the same pressures."

The judge expressed his disbelief that the father did not know the whereabouts of his wife.

The father, who has never seen his baby daughter, was led away in tears.

A friend of his, who is a teacher, said: "This isn't justice.

"They are a law-abiding family with respect for the police, but putting him in prison for protecting his family makes the law an ass. What good does it serve?"


The case of a teenage mother whose newborn son was taken into care has been referred to a specialist assessment unit for guidance on whether she is capable of looking after him.

She is planning to sue social services for damages after the "removal of her child without lawful authority".

However, another judge ruled that her son should be put back into care. The mother, known only as "G", will continue to see her son five days a week before the next High Court hearing on Feb 18.


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Postby Marina » Sat Mar 22, 2008 7:11 am

. ... ucmNwK9qeY

Jersey Child-Abuse Probe Rocks Tax Haven as Police Swarm School

By Camilla Hall

Feb. 29 (Bloomberg) -- Shipping clerk Shane Coupel says the 140-year-old school at the center of Jersey's biggest-ever criminal investigation always made him nervous.

``When I was a kid, I was told `if you're bad that's where you're going,''' said Coupel, 35, who was born and raised on the Channel Island, which is 100 miles (160 kilometers) south of the British mainland and near the French coast.

A tax haven with a population of 89,300, Jersey is reeling after police investigating allegations of sexual abuse found human remains and two hidden cellars at Haut de la Garenne, the former school and children's home that was closed in 1986. With witnesses coming forward every day, police say there may have been 160 victims over three decades.

``I think there's a lot of people who'd have known and have hushed things up,'' said Coupel.

La Garenne, a grey stone rectangular building with a sweeping sea view, is cordoned off as police use sniffer dogs and radars to help their search. Officers this week broke into a bricked-up underground chamber, which contains a ``household object'' that corroborates some victims' accounts of abuse.

Witnesses described the cellar as a ``very dark'' place where they were taken to be abused, Deputy Police Chief Lenny Harper said.

`List of Suspects'

The discovery on Feb. 23 of a human skull at the school, which first opened in 1867, brought newspapers and television crews from across the world to the 45 square-mile island.

``It's certainly been a shock,'' said retired chartered surveyor John de Veulle, 68, at his blue-shuttered house near La Garenne. ``We know a child has died but we don't know how or who it was and it's sad to have it on the doorstep.''

Jersey police first said Nov. 22 they were investigating accounts of abuse at the school and wanted to trace children said to have vanished from the home. Now, some of the home's former employees and visitors are suspects and officers are being investigated for their handling of the case.

``There's been quite a deluge of people getting in touch,'' Chief of Police Graham Power said Feb. 26 at a church service held to unite the local community. ``We're taking calls all the time, we've got a list of names and a list of suspects.''

Peter Hannaford, 59, spent the first 12 years of his life at the home and says he was raped from his earliest memories throughout his time there, according to the Jersey Evening Post.

World War II

``Boys and girls were abused while I was there,'' Hannaford said, according to the newspaper. ``The abuse was anything from rape and torture. It was men and women who abused us. It happened every night.''

Jersey, which is a dependency of the U.K. with its own legislative assembly, is best-known for its millionaire tax exiles and its occupation by the Nazis during World War II, the only part of the British Isles to fall under German control.

The island has 48 banks with 219 billion pounds ($437 billion) in deposits, according to its tourist office. In 2006, more than 730,000 people visited the island, whose capital St. Helier is a popular boating resort.

The abuse investigation has sparked a row between Chief Minister Frank Walker and former health minister Stuart Syvret, who was fired on Sept. 11 last year. Syvret has alleged there is a ``culture of cover-up'' on Jersey.

``If there's something that the whole community was totally ashamed of, they might clam up and there might be a sort of unspoken agreement but I've never seen that happening and I don't know that it has happened,'' said Canon Doctor Peter Williams, 66, the vicar at Gouray church in Gorey.

June Gleyo, 56, a former air stewardess who moved to the island in 1971, said she knows two victims of La Garenne.

People were ``incarcerated there,'' she said. ``There was cruelty, but mainly sexual abuse. The two people I know were women and it was pretty harrowing. La Garenne has always had this terrible shadow hanging over it.''


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Postby Marina » Sun Mar 30, 2008 7:22 pm

. ... 6&ito=1490

Couple falsely accused of child abuse go to court to try to get their family back

By LAURA COLLINS - More by this author »

Last updated at 23:46pm on 29th March 2008

Anguished couple Mark and Nicky Webster will this week embark on legal action to overturn a care order that led to the forcible adoption of their three children four years ago.

The Websters have instructed their solicitor to apply for leave to appeal against the order obtained by Norfolk County Council on the strength of false allegations of child abuse in May 2004.

If successful, it could open the door to a reversal of the adoptions that tore their family apart.

Fight: Mark and Nicky Webster with youngest son Brandon. Now they want their other three children home

Last night Nicky, 27, said: "Our appeal will be done in three stages. The first is to appeal against the original findings of abuse - that would clear our names.

"After that there could be no legal justification for the children's adoption but we've been told we would have to go through the process of appealing against the Freeing Order [the term for the parents' agreement to the adoption] and then against the adoption orders."

The children, who can be known only as A, B and C, were all under five when they were adopted.

The decision was made behind closed doors in the Family Court in a hearing lasting one day.

It relied almost entirely on now discredited medical evidence that a fracture sustained by B could have been caused only by violent twisting or shaking.

It has since been shown that the fracture was a result of bones weakened by a lack of vitamins.

Last year, the council withdrew its application for a care order for the Websters' fourth child, Brandon, now 21 months.

The Websters have now learned they have won legal aid to fund their fight to reunite the rest of their family.

George Hawks, the lawyer who was instrumental in bringing the Websters' case to light, said: "This allows them to approach the Court of Appeal for the previous findings of abuse to be overturned and that opens the door to look at the adoption issue again."

The Websters are determined that will be the outcome.

Last night Mark, 35, said: "We had thought in terms of getting some sort of access to the children.

"But now we've been told we've actually got more chance of reversing it altogether."

And Nicky added: "We want the children to know we did nothing wrong.

"We owe it to them to do this. If they seek us out in years to come and they feel we just stopped trying, they might ask, 'Why didn't you fight harder for me?'

"I want to show that we've tried everything, gone down every avenue."


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Postby Marina » Thu Apr 03, 2008 4:05 am

. ... 315078.stm

Mother pleads for baby's return

The mother of a baby unlawfully taken from her shortly after birth says she wants her child back permanently.
Social services officials in Nottingham removed the child from his mother in January, but returned him when a judge ruled they did not have a court order.

An order was granted the next day to put the baby into foster care and the 18-year-old mother, known as "G", has had limited contact since.

Nottingham City Council said a full review of the case would take place.

It's unfair, I'm a good mother and it's also unfair for a father to lose contact with his child

Baby K's mother

Speaking to BBC East Midlands Today, G said she was shocked to find her baby, known as "K", had been taken.

"I went outside at half past four [am] for a fag and stood outside for about half-an-hour. I went back in and K was gone.

"I wondered where he'd gone and who took him. I was shocked."

Hospital staff were apparently shown a "birth plan" prepared by local authority social services.

It said the mother, who had a troubled childhood and suffered from mental health problems, was to be separated from the child and no contact allowed without supervision by social workers.

But at a High Court hearing in January, Mr Justice Munby said the removal of a child could only be lawful if a police constable was taking action to protect a child, or there was a court order in place and ruled the removal was unlawful.

Mental health issues

G has denied suffering from any mental health problems, and said: "I have had two psychiatric reports done for court proceedings that I was under...and they said I had emotional needs, I don't know where that's come in as mental health issues.

"It's unfair, I'm a good mother and it's also unfair for a father to lose contact with his child."

At a further court hearing in March, it was ruled that G should currently have no contact with her baby for reasons that cannot be reported because of legal restrictions.

In a statement, Nottingham City Council said: "The council has referred this case to the Nottingham Safeguarding Children Board who are conducting a full review of all the circumstances surrounding G and baby K.

"When the review is completed, we shall make sure all processes and procedures comply with any recommendations the board makes."


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Postby Marina » Sun Apr 06, 2008 12:55 pm

. ... -20349820/

County council ends pursuit of mum-to-be
Jan 15 2008 by Ben Guy, The Journal

A PREGNANT Northumberland woman who has fled the country to have her baby no longer has to answer to social services in the county.

Fran Lyon fled to Continental Europe last November after Northumberland County Council threatened to take her child, saying she was likely to suffer from a condition that causes mothers to harm their babies.

The 22-year-old, whose baby is due at any time, left the North-East after the social services ruling that her child would be taken from her 10 minutes after birth.

Just two weeks ago, the council was continuing to urge Ms Lyon to get in touch with officers as soon as possible. But yesterday the council confirmed that it had passed files relating to Ms Lyon, formerly of St Hilda’s Road, Hexham, to her new local authority abroad.

The care order was imposed after a paediatrician’s report suggesting she was likely to suffer from Munchausen syndrome by proxy, a condition in which a carer, usually the mother, deliberately harms the person in their care to attract attention. The report said Ms Lyon should not be allowed to keep her baby because psychiatric problems she suffered as a teenager made her a threat to the child.

But since she left the country a psychologist’s report to the council has said she would not be a threat to her baby, who will be named Molly, and that she should be allowed to keep the child if she returned to the UK.

Despite other doctors saying she was fit to be a parent, social services refused to back down – until the latest recommendation was made by an expert in London.

Yesterday the county council said it now knew where Ms Lyon was living and had passed on responsibility for the case to the relevant authorities in Europe.

A county council spokesman said: “We now have knowledge of Ms Lyon’s whereabouts abroad. We have co-operated fully with the relevant authorities, who have now assumed responsibility for the case.”

Miss Lyon said she was now happily settled in a flat and had an excellent midwife.

“It is a relief to be able to put my experience of the UK system behind me. I am in touch with social workers and I have a positive relationship with them, which is very different to how it was in England.”


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Postby Marina » Sun Apr 13, 2008 7:37 pm

. ... -20347595/

Newborn baby is taken off mum after she flees to Ireland

A mum who fled to Ireland while pregnant to stop social services snatching her sixth child had him taken from her by police yesterday when he was just an hour old.

Emily Burgess, 32, from Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, gave birth to Isaac at Wexford County Hospital.

The newborn is being held under police protection by Irish Garda.

The child's father, Keith Clifford, 36, had been sentenced to five years for child cruelty in 1997.

Miss Burgess began a relationship with him in 2004 and they had two children, but split up during this pregnancy.

She said he never harmed their children.

Pal Pauline Goodwin, 39, said: "It has never been suggested Emily is any threat to the baby. To take an hour old baby away from her is evil."


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Postby Marina » Sun Apr 13, 2008 8:08 pm

. ... 6&ito=1490

Social workers took our children away... because of an incorrect hospital diagnosis

By FIONA BARTON - More by this author »

Last updated at 00:14am on 8th March 2008

There is nothing lavish planned for Benjamin Lamb's first birthday.

The happy, lively toddler is going to the zoo with his mother, father and big sister, Caitlin.

Then they will gather with the rest of their family to blow out the single candle on a birthday cake and toast his future.

It will be a day of ordinary pleasures - but for the Lambs, it will mark the end of an extraordinary nightmare.

Last September, Paul Lamb and Michelle Thomas, a young professional couple from Stockport in Manchester, had their children taken away by social services.

For four traumatic months, the couple were permitted to see their children only if they were supervised.

They were accused of deliberately harming them, of throwing Ben to the ground, of lying and of covering up their "unspeakable crime".

The couple believed they would lose their son and daughter for ever.

In fact, as a court finally ruled last month, they had done none of these things. The Lamb children were taken because information went unrecorded in a set of medical notes and a crucial diagnosis was missed.

It began on September 25, 2007, in the dining room of the terraced house in Stockport the Lambs had just bought for their growing family.

Miss Thomas, 25, an administrative assistant in the X-ray department of a local hospital, was holding six-month-old Ben in her arms.

She said: "Ben began getting cranky and kicking his legs against me. He wriggled out of my grip and fell to the floor.

"I tried to catch him but he caught his head on the ground. He cried for a few minutes and had a small red mark on the back of his head. We rang the GP straight away and he said to keep an eye on Ben overnight."

A week later, Mr Lamb, 29, an accounts manager with a printing firm, was stroking his son's head when he felt an inch-long "boggy" swelling under his hair.

The couple took the baby to the accident and emergency department at Stepping Hill Hospital.

Staff said the swelling could not have been caused by the fall. Mr Lamb said: "The doctor said he thought perhaps Caitlin had been a bit rough with her brother or he had caught himself with a toy.

"But the next day, the swelling was still there. I wasn't happy so I took Ben to a 24-hour GP service."

Ben was sent back to Stepping Hill Hospital to be seen by a paediatrician. Again, the earlier fall was dismissed as possible cause of the swelling. Hours later, Ben was Xrayed for the first time and admitted to a ward.

Miss Thomas said: "I said about him falling out of my arms but the doctors said it must have been much more recent than that because swelling occurs between 24 and 48-hours of injury. In the end, we stopped mentioning the fall."

Ben was given an ultrasound scan, which showed fluid in the swelling, blood tests, and a CT scan which pinpointed the problem: a tiny skull fracture.

"The consultant paediatrician treating Ben completely changed his attitude when the CT scan results came back. He ordered a skeletal survey," Miss Thomas recalled.

"They were looking for other injuries. It meant they thought we were harming him."

No other injuries were found but Stockport social services - which operates under the name " Safeguarding" - were called in.

A woman social worker questioned the couple and other members of the family and when Mr Lamb's mother suggested the head injury could have something to do with the fall, the council official appeared shocked.

She said it was the first time she had heard about it. The consultant also claimed to have been kept in the dark.

Mr Lamb said: "I couldn't believe it. We had told our GP, the 24-hour doctor, the nurse, the A&E doctor and at least three other medical staff but it wasn't in the hospital notes.

"No one had written it down and they clearly thought we were making it up."

Even when the family's GP confirmed they had reported the fall to him, it seemed nothing could stop the wheels of officialdom.

Miss Thomas said: "The next day both our children were taken away. The social worker told us we had an hour to find a relative to have them or they would have to go into foster care.

"She said we should get separate solicitors in case we blamed each other. We were both in tears."

In the topsy turvy world of social services, Mr Lamb's protests at the shocking turn of events was later used as "proof" he had a temper.

Stockport Safeguarding immediately applied for an interim care order for both children and Manchester County Court ordered medical evidence to be produced.

To add to the couple's agony, they were questioned under caution by police. Neither of them had ever been in any sort of trouble before.

At a court hearing six weeks later, consultant paediatrician Ian Mecrow said Ben's skull fracture was "non-accidental."

Miss Thomas said: "We got permission to seek a second medical opinion but there were times we thought we would lose Ben and Caitlin for ever. It didn't seem to matter what we said, no one believed us."

It was just before Christmas when the second opinion arrived. Consultant paediatrician Alan Sprigg of Sheffield University said the scan taken of Ben's head did indeed show the swelling was the result of the baby's earlier fall.

It was, he said, a rare condition known as "late presentation."

The diagnosis was accepted by Mr Mecrow but it took another month for the couple to clear their names and they had to endure a sustained attack on their characters by counsel for social services.

But finally, on Friday February 1, four months after being parted, they were told they could take their children home.

Mr Lamb recalled: "The first thing we did was take Caitlin and Ben to a park to play so we could be a normal family again.

"We were so nervous. What would we do if either of them fell and hurt themselves? We would have to think long and hard about taking them to the doctors.

"We feel very bitter about what happened. Social services played God with us, ruined our lives, then walked away without even bothering to issue so much as an apology."

A spokesman for Stockport Council said: "The council is confident that its officers acted properly, entirely in the interests of the children. We firmly deny that any officer informed the parents to 'blame each other.'"


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Postby Marina » Sat May 10, 2008 7:47 pm

. ... 6&ito=1490

DNA paternity and maternity tests cannot be relied on, says top judge
Last updated at 14:24pm on 13th March 2008

A senior judge has cast serious doubt over the reliability of DNA paternity and maternity tests used by closed Family Courts.

He also identified problems with key evidence in more than 120 hearings in the courts, raising fears that children may have been wrongly removed from their parents.

The public and Press are normally banned from proceedings in the Family Court, with parents gagged from talking about its findings even if they believe they are the victims of a miscarriage of justice.

But Deputy High Court Judge Anthony Hayden QC took the unusual step of publishing a judgment after a series of errors came to light in one case of abused children.

Only five laboratories are Government-certified for court work. But a loophole allows lawyers to hire uncertified scientists unless a judge makes a specific order compelling them to use approved labs.

The problem was highlighted in a case before Judge Hayden in December - when lawyers hired Liverpool-based DNA Diagnostics. Despite regularly giving evidence, it is not Government-approved.

The case involved eight children - victims of physical, emotional and sexual abuse - who had been looked after by several adults in two households.

Their abuser had been identified and sentenced in a criminal court, and the Family Court had to decide if the children, who had been put into care, should be returned to their parents.

According to the judgment, the firm lost photographs required to confirm the chain of evidence - then tried to carry out new tests on the youngsters without permission from the judge.

Then a lawyer in the case said that "she had been in a case recently where an identical problem had arisen with this same firm", Judge Hayden said.

"On that occasion she had received a bouquet of flowers ... by way of apology."

DNA Diagnostics confirmed the lawyer's claim and admitted it had lost similar material in a further 122 cases. It repaid £6,000 in fees for the case in Judge Hayden's ruling.

He accused the firm of a "systematic failure", adding: "The procedural and professional deficiencies that have been identified ... would have made it quite impossible for any court to rely on its [DNA Diagnostics'] conclusions."

Judge Hayden also questioned a second laboratory in the case.

He said Anglia DNA, which is approved by the Ministry of Justice, alleged there was an incestuous relationship in the case, only to withdraw the claim after a third firm's analysis that "flatly contradicted" this assessment.

Anglia DNA blamed unclear instructions from a lawyer.

Due to the secrecy around the Family Courts, it is unclear if people in other cases have been informed of the problems, or if it has led to any appeals.

House of Commons Justice Committee chairman Alan Beith MP said: "This is very serious. Errors mean children could be taken from their parents when they shouldn't be."

Last night, the Ministry of Justice said there was no need to change the law to compel lawyers to use only approved firms. A spokesman said: "The civil courts already have the power to give direction to ensure a laboratory is chosen from the accredited list."

DNA Diagnostics said it had addressed the problems identified and had now applied to join the approved list.


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Postby Marina » Sat May 10, 2008 8:04 pm

. ... 290105.ece

February 2, 2008

Foster care 'in best interest' of newborn baby taken from teenage mother

Rosemary Bennett, Social Affairs Correspondent

A baby taken from his teenage mother by social workers hours after he was born, then returned after a High Court ruling, is to be placed with foster parents.

A judge ruled today that it would be in the best interests of the baby, known as G, to be removed from the mother's care, although she will be allowed to visit frequently.

“The removal by court order of a child from the care of his mother soon after birth is a very grave step to take and is to be taken only when the welfare of the child makes it necessary,” said District Judge Richard Inglis at Nottingham County Court.

“In this case the court has decided that the welfare of G requires that he lives in local authority foster care on an interim basis while further inquiries are made and assessments carried out. His mother will have frequent periods of contact with him each week.”

The case has lifted the lid on the usually secret world of child protection. There has been a sharp increase in the number of newborn babies taken into care and then adopted, but proceedings all take place in closed family courts.

The child was removed by social workers from his mother just two hours after his birth in the early hours of Wednesday morning. The 18-year-old mother was in care herself after running away from home, and has mental health problems.

Her solictor believed that social workers at Nottingham City Council had not followed proper legal procedures, and took the case of the baby's removal to the High Court first thing on Wednesday morning where the judge, Mr Justice Munby, ordered that the baby be returned to his mother immediately.

Judge Munby was heavily critical of social workers saying that “on the face of it”, they had broken the law and “should have known better”.

The council defended its actions and said that it had followed all the proper procedures, hinting that the mother's solicitor had over-reacted in taking the case to the High Court.

“The council and a range of other partner agencies had enough concern for the baby's welfare during the pregnancy to believe that action would be needed to protect the baby when it was born. The law does not allow application for a court order before birth. The protection plan made in advance included the intention to apply for a care crder immediately following the birth of this baby,” it said.

“The decision to seek an Interim Care Order or an Emergency Protection Order was taken at a child protection case conference in December 2007, convened in accordance with Nottingham City Safeguarding Children Board procedures, at which the mother and her legal representative were present.”

Interim care orders normally run for about eight weeks before they are reviewed.


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Postby Marina » Sun May 11, 2008 11:46 am

. ... 419700.ece

From The Times

February 23, 2008

Social workers put themselves above the law

Camilla Cavendish: Analysis
This story is, sadly, not unique. It is symptomatic of the extraordinary power that social services departments now wield over our lives.

Before Louise Mason’s trial in 2004, social workers apparently told her that they would be putting her children up for adoption irrespective of the outcome. That is precisely what they did, two weeks after her acquittal. They clung to their own “guilty” verdict despite the verdict of the jury.

In far too many cases social workers are putting themselves above the law. Doctors increasingly report that a child who is admitted to hospital has injuries that may be “nonaccidental”. This is translated by local authorities as proving guilt.

Many innocent lives have been destroyed by diagnoses of “shaken baby syndrome” and “metaphyseal fracture”, conditions that are believed to be diagnostic of abuse despite having been comprehensively demolished by medical experts in America, and overturned at appeal after appeal in Britain.

Louise Mason is very, very lucky that her children were not adopted. She would then have lost any rights to them, despite having been proved innocent.

We only know about this case because the High Court judge who heard the appeal ordered that Louise Mason be named, so that she could gain a “sense of justice”. That is how our secret state operates. There are many, many other cases that have never come out. Until the family courts open up to public scrutiny there can be no justice.


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